De Lima urges anew for the passage of bill protecting rights of refugees, stateless persons


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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima urged fellow stakeholders and advocates in the academe, civil society, international organizations, and public service, to come together and urge members of Congress to push for the swift passage of her measure seeking to define and protect the rights of refugees and stateless persons in the country and allow them to live a life with dignity.

Senator De Lima’s message was conveyed on her behalf by her Deputy Chief of Staff, Atty. Catherine Sy, during a webinar, entitled “Strengthening our Commitment: Advocating for Stronger Legislative Framework for a Rights-based and Sensitive Durable Solutions for Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Other Persons of Concern” last Nov. 23.

The said webinar is part of a four-part webinar series, entitled “Borderless Perspectives: A Conversation Series on Understanding and for the Rights and Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons in the Philippines.”

Atty. Sy recalled that on July 11, 2019, De Lima filed Proposed Senate Bill (SB) No. 379 or the “Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Act of 2019” to strengthen and promote the rights of refugees and stateless persons and create the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Board. 

These measures aim to facilitate a fair and efficient procedure for status determination and eligibility for protection and strengthen the government’s cooperation and coordination with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and other relevant institutions and agencies. 

More importantly, SB No. 379 defines the rights of refugees and stateless persons, which are geared towards allowing them to live a life consistent with the dignity of all persons, as well as the obligations of the State to protect them and their reciprocal obligation to respect Philippine laws in exchange for such protection. 

In pushing for the passage of the proposed measure, De Lima underscored the need to take a rights-based approach to refugee recognition and protection.

SB No. 379 remains pending in the Committee on Justice and Human Rights since its filing on 11 July 2019.

“We hope that we can all work together in asking Committee on Justice and Human Rights Chairperson Sen. Richard Gordon to calendar this bill for hearing before Congress adjourns next year so that we can have a head start for it when Congress convenes after the elections,” Atty. Sy said.

The webinar series, which was organized by the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) and the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), aimed to foster greater understanding among members of civil society, non-government organizations, the academe, including law students, the general public, and even public servants in the legislative and executive branches on the situation of refugees and stateless persons in the Philippines and across the region.

Among the other resource persons invited by the AHRC and the UNHCR were a refugee, Mr. Rafae Salem El-Hawi, who shared his experiences as the first Palestinian refugee to arrive in the Philippines to escape the conflict in the Gaza Strip, having arrived in the Philippines in the 1970s, Ms. Almalyn “Bea” Akmad, a Filipina belonging to the ethnic group Sama-Bajau, who shared her experience as volunteer assisting refugees, and State Counsel Ma. Lorena “Laurie” Calo, who represented the DOJ’s Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (DOJ-RSPPU).

Under DOJ Circular No. 58, s. 2012, as then Secretary of the Department of Justice, it may be recalled that De Lima set up the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (RSPPU) in the Legal Staff of the DOJ, making the Philippines “the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to establish a procedure to protect both refugees and stateless people.”

Moreover, Sy said De Lima is optimistic that SB No. 2233 or the “Foundling Recognition and Protection Act” will be signed into law under the present administration, as she urged the conclusion of plenary debates after the budget deliberations.

“The proposed legislation aims to recognize the status of ‘foundlings’ as another category of Persons of Concern, in order to, among other things, ‘reduce and prevent statelessness’, considering these children’s distinct vulnerabilities to neglect, statelessness, and abandonment,” she noted. (30)

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